Simulated Agility: When Agile Transformations Go Wrong

Simulated Agility: When agile transformations go wrong - banner

Shorter release cycles, faster value, and becoming more flexible overall are a few of the common goals for organizations these days. To achieve this, agile methodologies are predetermined.

Smaller organizations often use agile methodologies without any struggle, but when it comes to more complex situations, as in more prominent companies, agile at scale comes into place. The best way to scale agility is by using one of the agile Frameworks.

One of the most common is the Scaled Agile Framework for Lean Enterprises (SAFe®). With this framework, organizations can scale the agile methodologies all over the company and improve significantly. Better flow, increase in productivity, and quality, such as alignment to overall goals, are just a few of the benefits SAFe® offers.

Simulated Agility - when agile transformations go wrong

In theory, agile transformations should go a certain way: the decision to become agile is made, and the process starts. Research, building a roadmap, and defining a timeline are common steps in the early stages. As a SAFe® transformation is a huge step, it certainly takes time. A lot of planning, effort, and dedication is needed to complete the transformation successfully.

In reality, this is not always what happens. People tend to use existing workflows and methodologies. This can lead to a situation where agile methodologies are used on paper but not lived. In the best-case scenario, companies manage to overcome the challenges of this state and create an environment in which agile values are manifested. Everyone is working together towards a common goal, and a new way of collaboration is established. The focus lies on the customer and the value created for them. This way, companies can create innovative, high-quality products and services faster than the competition.

When the impression of an agile environment is created, but there are no actual improvements in collaboration, people become frustrated. This state of “simulated agility” can be especially aggravating for team members trying to become agile and improve their processes. Simulated agility effectively endangers the fundamental transformation.

New agile ways of working may be manifested within this state, but the overall mindset and processes are not - the overall mindset has not been changed. This is incredibly frustrating because in this state, a lot of effort has been invested in the agile transformation without seeing any improvements and you can’t put the finger on what’s missing.

This can also lead to frustration and a shared aversion against the agile methodologies in the organization, so the transformation is deemed a failure.

Indicators for simulated agility can be:

  • Management that only pays lip service to agile values
  • Teams that are not given the autonomy to actually experiment, discover new ways, and improve continuously
  • Push instead of Pull principle
  • Stagnant workflow
  • Lack of transparency in decision-making
  • Focus on projects, not products. In agile methodologies, the value is the most important part to focus on. The release cycles of projects are often too long to create a fast value proposition.
  • Lack of customer feedback loops
  • Low focus on value and customers
  • Strong hierarchies, no decentralized decision-making
  • The roles defined in SAFe are often being used, at least in the terminology. But everyone is doing the same job.
  • Dependencies are slowing the whole process down, sprints can’t be closed successfully, or there is no continuous improvement as retrospectives are not prioritized.

If you see any of these indicators in your company, it is vital to take action. Especially in agile transformations, teams should discuss problems as soon as possible. Don’t hesitate to talk about your concerns, even when it feels uncomfortable.

As simulated agility is a common phenomenon in companies that have not worked with agile methodologies before, many companies struggle with it. This shines a light on how difficult it is to change company culture and mindsets and can lead to a wrong understanding of agile methodologies. To avoid this, it is important to create an environment where everyone can openly talk about issues and try to find solutions together.

Leaving simulated agility behind

Once organizations find themselves in a state of simulated agility, it can be a very daunting experience. But is it really simulated agility that leads to that struggle? Luckily, there are solutions for this:

  1. Create an environment of openness and trust
    To overcome the challenges of simulated agility, it is essential to create an environment where everyone can openly talk about their experiences and challenges. This includes management and team members as well as stakeholders from other parts of the company. It is only through transparency and trust that meaningful collaboration can take place.
  2. Focus on value and the consumer
    To create an environment in which agile values can be lived, the focus needs to be on value creation. This means that everyone involved in creating products and services needs to have a common understanding of who the customer is and what they need. Companies create innovative products and services that meet their needs through close collaboration with the customer.
  3. As always, communication is key
    The first step should address why you think you are not living agile methodologies in your company. Talk to management and other stakeholders to get their perspective on the situation. Try to find an agreement on agile principles to follow in your company. This can be done in small steps and with the help of external professionals who can help you navigate these new waters.
  4. Measure progress and track the results of your changes
    This will help you stay on course and continue moving in the right direction. With the right KPIs, progress becomes visible, as well as impediments. Both cases are handy, as they either motivate people to keep it up or offer the opportunity to react, if necessary. 
  5. Acknowledge the state of simulated agility
    To improve, it is first necessary to recognize the problem. This includes recognizing the signs for simulated agility. Once those are on the table, the improvement process starts. If no one brings it up, nothing will change.


It is also essential to accept that there are no easy solutions for complex situations and that everyone needs to be on board to make the transformation successful.

Using agile methodologies is a massive step in a new direction. Once the decision is made, everyone needs to be involved early on and aligned with the overall goal. Of course, this is a process that takes a while. 

When you find yourself in a state of simulated agility and become aware of it, you have just started a new step towards a more agile future by using an agile methodology.

It’s important to understand that many companies have been through the phases of an agile transformation and encountered the same issues many organizations are struggling with right now. After all, there are professionals to assist you through your agile journey.

The best journeys are taken together

Let us accompany you on your SAFe journey every step of the way. We know that a SAFe® implementation can seem daunting, but with the right tools and the right partner, it doesn't have to be. Whether you're about to take your first steps or ready to scale up, we will be there to help you evaluate and guide you through the process. With KEGON - Germany's leading SAFe partner & SAFe first mover in Europe - we will use our expertise in Agile Hive, Jira, and Jira Align to help you find the right methods and tools to fit your needs wherever you are on your SAFe journey.

Further Reading

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